Following the verdict on former premier Nawaz Sharif in the National Accountability Court which resulted in him going to jail, all eyes are now on the Supreme Court, which is set to determine the fate of former president Asif Ali Zardari for alleged money-laundering and misuse of the public exchequer.
On December 24, the NAB court sentenced Sharif to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment and imposed a fine of more than $36 million in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills case, a mill established by his son Hussain Nawaz in Saudi Arabia through undefined and unexplained means and resources. At the same time the NAB court freed Sharif in a case accusing him of involvement in setting up 15 offshore companies for his younger son Hassan Nawaz. It also declared both of his sons proclaimed offenders.
Sharif, who was on bail in his earlier conviction in another case for his London apartments, has moved an appeal before the Islamabad High Court against the latest sentence requesting the court to grant him similar relief. His freedom from prison, now, is linked to the approval of the IHC in coming days. Until then, he would be behind bars in the Kot Lakhpat Jail of Lahore, a prison he specifically requested, as opposed to the Adiala Jail he was earlier sent to. NAB also challenged the acquittal of Sharif in the Flagship Investments reference and urged the IHC to enhance the period of the sentence in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills reference.
On the other front, the JIT report against Zardari indicates he laundered Rs42 billion through 29 fake bank accounts. The JIT in its 128-page final report submitted to the apex court, recommended the filing of 16 graft references against Zardari, his sister, Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah and other people including the bigwigs of Omni Group, the front company allegedly used for alleged money-laundering and kickbacks. The SC has given time to the PPP leadership to submit a reply against the JIT report.
These actions against the leadership of two major political parties have raised many eyebrows, leading to fingers being pointed at the government for creating sense of political victimisation, with the alleged hidden support of the mighty military establishment.
The new situation may lead to the ouster of Zardari from the arena and political unrest in the country. But all this is subject to the upcoming court proceedings which might end up in deciding the political fate of Zardari. Separately, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leadership in Sindh has already filed an application with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in Karachi for disqualification of Zardari –who is a sitting MNA – for not mentioning his assets disclosed in the JIT report, particularly his property in America.
“You could not manage rigging in Sindh which you committed elsewhere in the general elections. But we will fight,” said Zardari in his response to the JIT report while addressing a public gathering in Sindh last week, indicating that the government want to reverse the 18th Amendment through such pressures.
Some PPP insiders see the JIT report as an opportunity to reorganize the party if the tainted Zardari is sidelined through a legal course, but the PPP core leadership continues to defend its party bigwig.
“Such conspiracies against the PPP are not new. We have faced them in the past and nothing was proved. We will prove ourselves innocent again,” PPP senior leader Qamar Zaman Kaira told The News on Sunday, adding, “There is nothing new in the report for us. It has been intentionally leaked for the party’s media trial and to defame our leadership.”
He warned the PTI government not to think of toppling the PPP government in Sindh. “The PPP can, in fact, play a major role in toppling the PTI rule in the centre. Certain forces are undermining PPP’s strength. They are testing our patience and we are letting them expose themselves before the public,” he says. “Such plans will create only chaos and nothing else. They can never destroy the PPP which has a history of democratic struggle with a clear ideological position.”
This situation, leading to the possibility of political confrontation and a serious fight in the future may compel both the affected major parties to join hands and to start a joint struggle against the PTI within and outside the parliament.
“The PPP and PML-N should join hands and give tough time to the PTI in Senate and National Assembly where they are in power with little difference in numbers,” said PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafique while speaking to the media inside the parliament last week. He urged both parties to fight against this alleged political victimisation.
“Political unrest is linked to the performance of the PTI regime; its governance and improvisation of economy,” says political commentator and senior journalist Suhail Warraich, adding, “There will be political repercussions if the PTI tries an adventure in Sindh and aims to topple its government in the province.”
He is not sure yet whether Zardari would meet the same fate as Sharif and maintains that cases against political leaders cannot be set aside. “Every case, even criminal, against a political leader has a political angle and a political connotation. And such cases also have a political background.”
Interestingly, the fate of the PPP is linked to the stability of the PTI’s rule in Senate, National Assembly and Punjab Assembly. If the PPP turns around and joins hands with the PML-N, they can sideline the PTI from the power corridors. The biggest question, however, is whether PPP would go for this option or go for some give-and-take for smooth sailing.
“It seems difficult that Zardari will have the same fate as Sharif. His current cases were initiated in 2015 or even before. And despite the damning allegations in the JIT report, Zardari would continue to fight in courts to defend himself,” opines Zahid Hussain, political analyst who does not see strong chances of his disqualification unless something solid comes up against his property in America. “Political unrest will occur only if the PTI tries to topple their government in Sindh,” he says, terming such designs of PTI unjustified and completely wrong.
Hussain also sees little chance of the PPP joining hand with the PML-N because of continuing mistrust between the two parties’ leadership. “Options for the PPP are limited and possibility of some give and take to maintain the Sindh government cannot be ignored,” he says. PPP might extend support to PTI in the National Assembly and Senate in legislation and constitutional amendments. Despite that Zardari would have to fight a long battle for his personal political survival.”